19 December 2010

Twas the week before Christmas

And all through these weeks,
I've been up to my eyeballs,
In cookies and treats.

Okay...that's all I can muster.

Needless to say December has been a whirl of lunches and dinners (some less edible than others), gatherings, treats and nights in the kitchen fighting with Beelzebub to procure 500 cookies. The next few weeks will bring much the same (except no more cookies--if you've not received any...well...umm...be nicer to me and we'll see if you get on next year's list).

I've had a couple of requests for recommendations for books for foodies. I receive a number of food related books to review each year--not everything gets a post, but I did select a couple which I've not yet reviewed but deserve to be mentioned. Both were given to me courtesy of their publishers:

by Tilar Mazzeo
Harper Collins
Mazzeo tells the story of a young widow, assumes the helm of what would become one of the world's most famous champagnes. Tracing Mme Cliquot's story from revolutionary to Napoleonic France, the author deftly combines socio-political events with the personal struggles of a young widow, mother and business woman.

by Harold McGee
Doubleday Canada/Random House Canada
McGee's latest tome easily takes the home cook by the hand and guides them through the basics of cooking and more important why recipes work (or more importantly, don't work). He guides the the reader though tools, concepts and ingredients in simple, straightforward language. I think it would be good for those who are rather new to the kitchen and it's frustrating ways.

So, that's it for me until the New Year. Until then, I'm leaving you with a plate of linzer sandwich cookies: nutty, sweet and flavoured with cinnamon and cloves.

The recipe is from Canadian Living's cookie edition. The only real change I made was to use preground filberts--I don't have a food processer, so I bought a packet of ground nuts and went to work. The recipe comes together nicely and is so easy to work with...and, unlike other cookie doughs, you can easily re-roll the scraps withouth the finished cookie toughening.

Linzer Cookies
Adapted from Canadian Living's recipe
Yield three dozen
215g (1.5c) ground filberts (hazelnuts)
240g (2c) ap flour
1tsp baking powder
1.5tsp cinnamon
0.25tsp ground cloves
0.25tsp salt
grated zest of one lemon
280g (1.25c) butter
150g (0.75c) sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1tsp vanilla
250ml (1c) jam (raspberry, apricot, strawberry, blueberry, whatever you have on hand)

Toast the ground nuts either by spreading it in an even layer on a tin foil-lined cookies sheet and popping it into a 180C/350F for about five minutes or until golden and fragrant OR toast the flour in batches on the stovetop, over a medium heat, in a large cast iron pan until golden and fragrant.

Mix toasted ground nuts with flour, baking powder, spices, salt and lemon zest.

In a separate bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Then beat in the vanilla, the whole egg and yolk one at a time. Stir in the nut flour mixture in two or three additions, until the dough comes together, without over mixing. Divide the dough in half and flatten into discs. Wrap with cling film and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Preheat oven to 180C/350F and line cookie sheets with parchment.

Roll out each disc onto a lightly floured surface to 0.5cm/0.25" thickness. Using a 6cm (2.5") round cutter. If desired, use a smaller cutter to cut a shaped hole from half the cookies (for the tops).

Bake 2.5cm (1") apart for 8-12 minutes, until the bottoms are lightly golden. Let cool on pans for a few minutes before transferring to racks. Let cool thoroughly before sandwiching.

Option: dust with icing sugar before serving.

To assemble:
Spoon a teaspoon of jam onto the bottom of a "bottom" biscuit and sandwich with a top.

- I've not tried it but you can probably substitute other nuts for filberts, such as walnuts or almonds.
- For crispier cookies, sandwich the day your are serving them, otherwise the the jam will soften the cookies, the longer they've been assembled. Nothing wrong with that...


AddThis Social Bookmark Button

06 December 2010

21 years...

...and not forgotten

Geneviève Bergeron
Helene Colgan
Nathalie Croteau
Barbara Daigneault
Anne-Marie Edward
Maud Haviernick
Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz
Maryse Laganière
Maryse Leclair
Anne-Marie Lemay
Sonia Pelletier
Michèle Richard
Annie St-Arneault
Annie Turcotte

Politicians mark Montreal massacre with calls to end violence against women


I'm a quill for hire!

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

29 November 2010

On My Rickety Shelves: Kitchen

Thanks to the lovely people at Random House Canada, a copy of this month's cookbook selection was delivered to my doorstep.

By Nigella Lawson
Alfred A. Knopf/Random House Canada
512 pages; $55

There’s a small number of authors whose new works I eagerly await: AS Byatt, Christopher Brookmyre, Stephen Fry, Nigella Lawson and Nigel Slater. Their words are smart, engaging so incredibly well honed. When I grow up I want to write like that.

When I peruse a cookbook, I skim it for more than just recipes. Without a doubt the recipes must make me want to lock myself into my kitchen and lose myself in chopping, drizzling, frizzling and sampling. Just as important is how the author coaxes me into keeping that book in my hands. I want the author to talk to me as a friend and be someone I’d invite into my kitchen. I don’t want to be talked down to, lectured to by someone with self-fashioned airs of superiority.

Nigella Lawson brings her brand of combined eloquence and common sense cookery in her new offering, Kitchen. In it, she continues her particular type of food diarisation—her first book How To Eat features a section on nursery foods and feeding very young children, others included foods palatable to younger mouths—this time as a busy working mum with equally busy teenagers.

Her recipes, as usual, range from combining simple ingredients into quick and tasty meals such as Egg and Bacon Salad to longer cooked meals such as Beer-braised Pork Knuckles with Caraway, Garlic, Apples and Potatoes. She also brings in disparate foodish inspirations from areas such as Spain, Vietnam, South Africa and Italy. The instructions are clear and easy to follow and usually accompanied by lovely photographs. Many recipes include tips about freezing, how to use leftovers and make-ahead notes.

As with her other Canadian imprints, the text appears to be the same as in the original British imprint, which means she uses weight metrics and not volume. This may be an issue for many North American cooks, but since a digital kitchen scale can be bought for the price of a couple of bottles of extra virgin olive oil, this shouldn’t be that much of an issue.

What some readers may find useful are two early sections: “Kitchen Caboodle” and “Kitchen Confidential”—the first is what’s known in some books as “batterie de cuisine,” a listing of kitchen equipment the author finds essential. What’s equally useful is her “Hall of Shame” section that lists regrettable purchases she’s made (ahem, including the slow cooker). Such lists are, of course, highly individual and should be taken with a grain of salt. Kitchen Confidential compiles her various kitchen tips on ingredients such as baking powder, sea salt and vermouth to tools and gadgets such as pastry brushes and disposable rubbery gloves and tips on baking and frying.

As with my other reviews, the proof of a book’s value is in the recipes. Here are the ones I attempted:

Vietnamese Pork Noodle Soup (p82)
I really like pho, but find their quantity overwhelming when at restaurants. Nigella’s version had fresh and bright flavours and it was very warming. As with any home cooked food, I can control my portion, but here I thought the noodle quantity was two to three times what I think it should have been or the amount of broth should be increased. Easily resolved the next time I make this.

Spanish chicken with chorizo and potatoes (p100)
Delicious. Spicy sausage and roast chicken with just a hint of orange. I was so happy with this meal that I’ve since replicated it with other types of sausage and seasonings. It’s more than easy and (as you can tell from the picture) a doddle to decrease to feed one person (as opposed to six).

Chocolate Chip Cookies (p236)
Everyone has their own idea as to what makes a good chocolate chip cookie and this was definitely not mine. I prefer thin, buttery discs which are crispy around the edges and chewy in the centre. I also like them to be of a reasonable size (say 2” or 5cm in diameter). Hers are cakey and are dolloped in ¼ cup measurements. I would have used a teaspoon or a tablespoon at most.

Sweet Potato Supper (p340)
This dish combines three of my favourite ingredients—asparagus, bacon and sweet potatoes—in an incredibly simply way. I loved the way the salty, smoky bacon played against the lush sweet potatoes and slightly caramelised asparagus.

So how does it rate?
Overall: 3.8/5
The breakdown:
Recipe Selection: 4/5
Writing: 4.5/5
Ease of use: 3/5
Yum factor: 4/5
Table-top test: Lies flat

Kitchen comfort-level: Easy-Intermediate
Pro: A good range of recipes ranging drawn from a number of cuisines.
Con: Based on the pho and cookies, some on-the-fly corrections may be needed.

AddThis Social Bookmark Button

21 November 2010

Copyright and Cooks Source

It’s been a few weeks since the online masses raised a hue and cry against Cooks Source and its publisher/editor Judith Griggs. In case you weren’t caught in the crossfire—or need a refresher—here’s its Wikipedia entry.

Griggs’ Cooks Source web site is gone. That doesn’t mean her content has disappeared into the ether forever: for now, her final post is preserved in
Google’s cache and either in whole or in part on various web pages such as this one.

I followed, commented and opined about Griggs’ behaviour as well as the brand and reputational damage she hastened. It’s still fresh and the dust has yet to settle (possibly by impending legal actions)—but at the heart of this issue is the simple fact that she ventured into a territory she appears to have little understanding of or respect for.

I look at this matter through various lenses—as a writer and artist, as a publisher, as a professional communicator and as someone with more than a passing familiarity with issues and brand management. The way it unfurled in a few short hours is the stuff case studies are made of.

Let me start by stating one of my simple truths.

Writing and editing (and other communicative skills) are like fresh air or potable water: excruciatingly undervalued.


Because they are ubiquitous. Everyone communicates in one way, shape or form, but when it comes to writing, my favourite illustrative line I fling about like a confetti-tossing wedding guest is: “Eye right good. I talk good. So I is a come you nick 8 ore.”

Get it?

Just because you can string words together it doesn’t mean you communicate effectively or well. It certainly doesn’t mean you are a (professional) communicator.

By extension: just because you change sentences with a blue pencil, turn on tracked changes in Word, or arrange words around pictures and display ads, it doesn’t mean you are an editor.

I’ve read the 206-word excerpt of
Griggs' email to Monica Gaudi, the woman from whom she stole content. Like Cooks Source’s final online missives, there are grammar and spelling errors (differences between American and Canadian spelling and grammar notwithstanding), it meanders like a million year old creek and stands up to the scrutiny of something written by a fast-tracked MBA who’s all suck-up and no tangible experience.

Griggs mentions a couple of interesting terms any legitimate editor should know like the back of her hand: “public domain” and “copyright laws.” She also implies online publishing waves ownership rights. At the time she tapped out that email I’m certain she thought she felt she was on solid ground and believed the web was ripe for picking. I suspect now she’s better educated.

Please note a couple of things. I am not a lawyer. I’m speaking to a Canadian context which is similar to standards and practices in the US (if you live elsewhere, you’ll need to check your national law books). Much of what follows is distilled from various sources, but some excellent sources include
Royal Roads University’s Copyright Information Page, Ostmann and Baker’s The Recipe Writer’s Handbook, Giuseppina D’Agostino’s Healing Fair Dealing? A Comparative Copyright Analysis of Canada’s Fair Dealing to U.K. Fair Dealing and U.S. Fair Use (pdf).

If you think your rights have been infringed upon, I strongly recommend you consult a lawyer who specializes in copyright law.

Copyright is just one kind of intellectual property protected by Canadian law.

Canadian Copyright Act gives people who create literary works (print and electronic), dramatic pieces, musical works, recordings, performance and communication signals (such as TV or radio signals) the right to control how their work is used. Copyright holders have several rights:

  • Reproduction rights include performance and publishing;
  • Economic rights allow for remuneration for the work’s use, and
  • Moral rights which include right of attribution and the right to maintain the work’s integrity (in other words: not allowing alteration, distortion, or mutilation).

Just because someone has created something doesn’t necessarily mean they are the copyright holder (for example, an employer can own the copyright of work done by an employee). It can be transferred in whole or in part to someone else; moral rights can be waived entirely. Currently, Canadian copyright lasts to 50 years beyond the life of a creator. For example if I die today, my pieces will be in copyright until 2060. Copyright can be renewed to ensure the works do not fall into public domain.

The Canadian Copyright Act’s fair dealings provisions lets people use original works without infringing on a copyright holder’s rights for research, critiques and reviews, or to report the news, but they must reference sources. When evaluating fair dealings, several factors come into play, including:

  • How the original work was dealt with;
  • How much of the original work was used;
  • If alternative sources were available;
  • The nature of the original source, and
  • What effect it had on the copyright holder.
  • Public domain
    If something is in public domain, it is free for others to reproduce, perform etc. Basically one of two things happen for a work to be in public domain: either the copyright has expired or the copyright owner has purposely placed it in public domain.

    Please note: This does not mean online documents are necessarily public domain.

    My rule of thumb is unless there is a disclaimer on the web site stating that the works are free to use, I assume the content is bound by copyright rules.

    Copyright as it pertains to recipes
    Hoo boy. Now here’s a topic for you. I’ve heard everything from “a recipe can’t be copyrighted” to “mine mine mine all mine and you can’t touch it without paying me oodles of money” and everything in between. Seriously.

    When it comes to recipes, my current understanding is it’s a combination of copyright law and ethics:

    • An ingredients list cannot be copyrighted.
    • The method’s description can be copyrighted.
    • If a recipe is based on another, and the author wants it to be considered original, there must be a minimum of three significant changes to the original recipe.
    • For recipes that have simply been tweaked, the original author should be acknowledged in a fashion such as “adapted from a recipe by…”
    • Classic or standard recipes such as those for classic mayonnaise or classic shortbread are considered to be in public domain and do not need to be attributed.

    But really, the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ rule is best: when in doubt, give credit.


    I don’t think it fair to assume every small town editor scalps content from unsuspecting writers and then demand the victim pay for editorial services—many live by strong journalistic standards. Many Canadian journalists and editors take the

    Atkinson principles to heart. Unfortunately Griggs has done a lot to damage the reputations of ethical journalists and newspaper editors…which is probably why she was “grilled” (her word, not mine) by a reporter about the situation.

    Do I feel sorry for Griggs?

    Not really.

    She’s a thief. She was rude. Apart from Monica, she’s unrepentant to the others she stole from. She’s a bully who tried to paint herself as a victim…which she was…of her own words…those same words she herself chose and committed to pixels.

    I'm a quill for hire!

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    08 November 2010

    *Blush*: Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Bacon

    The thing about foodblogging--or many other types of blogging, I suppose--is it's quite a solitary endeavour.

    I sit here, alone, in my basement TV temple, my laptop perched on my lap, unfurling my thoughts as I type away into the ether. I never quite ask "is there anyone out there?" I know there is. Who you are is mostly a mystery to me.

    Some of my regular visitors are known to me--they comment, email or talk to me via Twitter. Many are anonymous passers by who find me through links, Internet searches or simply by accident. But then there are those who stop by on a regular basis who are quiet voyeurs to parts of my life. I often wonder about this last group--who they are, why they visit and why they return.

    Every once in a while someone uncloaks--I always feel a bit honoured when they do. Sometimes when they say "hi," I'm a bit amazed at who's dropped me a line.

    Imagine my surprise when I received a note from an editor at CanadianLiving.com, asking me to participate in an article featuring their favourite bloggers. Seriously. Me?

    They've followed my pixelated rants and escapades for years and decided to include me with some of food blogging's finest voices and photographers. Angie, Béa, Clotilde, Dara, Hillary, Ilva, Jeanette, Kalyn, Matt, Melody, Paula, Peabody and I all shared some of our kitchen aventures in a piece about ingredient phobias. You can read it here.

    A couple of weeks later, I received another note. A writer for Taste Magazine, a local quarterly food journal contacted me for a feature she was pulling together about local foodbloggers. One of her colleagues has read me for a while and suggested that she track me down. And track me down she did. She came to my home and we had a lovely natter over some lemon-blueberry buckle. The article also profiles Charmian and Andrea; we've all contributed seasonal recipes for cold winter months. The magazine's editor was kind enough to flip me a pdf, so I can share it here.

    In case you don't have Adobe Acrobat, here's my recipe that appears in the Winter 2010 edition of Taste:

    Sweet, tart, creamy and just a little bit smoky, this hearty, cool-weather soup was inspired by Trish Magwood's sweet potato-chipotle soup, Jennifer McLagan's pumpkin and bacon soup, and Molly Katzen's curried apple soup. By leaving out the bacon and sour cream it easily becomes vegetarian-friendly: sauté in oil, use vegetable broth and garnish with fresh sage. Like many soups, its flavour improves if allowed to steep for at least a day.

    Butternut Squash and Apple Soup with Bacon
    Yield: Approximately 2.5 litres /10 cups

    150g (4-6 strips) streaky bacon (or pancetta), chopped
    flavourless oil, such as canola or safflower (if needed)
    2 medium cooking onions, diced
    1 celery stalk, diced
    2.5ml (0.5 tsp) dried sage
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    250ml (1 cup) white wine
    1kg (2lbs) butternut squash, peeled, seeded and chopped
    500g (1lb) tart cooking apples, such as Granny Smith or Jonathan, peeled, cored and chopped
    250ml (1 cup) apple juice or cider
    1L (4c) cold vegetable or chicken stock or broth
    cayenne pepper (optional)

    To serve:
    sour cream (optional)

    In a four-litre (four-quart) pot, fry the chopped bacon over medium heat until crispy. Using a slotted spoon, remove the cooked bacon and drain on kitchen towels, leaving the bacon fat in the pot. Keep the bacon pieces aside for garnishing.

    Add the onions and celery to the hot fat—you may need to add a splash of oil, in case the bacon is particularly lean. Stir occasionally to lift up any browned bacon bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pot. After about five to eight minutes, the onions will be translucent. Add the sage and garlic and stir for about 30 seconds, or until the garlic releases its scent. Pour in the wine and stir for about a minute or until the alcohol evaporates.

    Add the chopped squash and apples to the pot. Stir well, coating the pieces in the onion mixture. Add the apple juice and enough stock to cover. Bring the mixture to a boil and let simmer until the squash and apples are easily pierced with a fork—this will take about 15-20 minutes.

    Remove from heat and let cool for about 10 minutes (or longer, if you wish). Purée the soup in a food processor, immersion blender or a jug-style blender until it’s as smooth as you prefer. For a chunky texture, you can mash the ingredients, by hand, with a potato masher.

    Return the soup to the stove and simmer over medium heat. Add cayenne (to taste), if using. Balance and adjust flavour to taste: honey to sweeten, white wine or white wine vinegar to add a bit of sharpness, salt, pepper, additional sage or other herbs to round out the flavours as you see fit.

    Serve hot with a dollop of sour cream stirred into each bowl; garnish with crisped bacon.

    - For a deeper, smokier taste, fry the bacon until soft and do not remove it when you add the onions (etc). Purée all together. Fry extra bacon, for garnishing.

    - For a more pronounced apple flavour, use hard cider instead of wine.

    - Much of the soup’s flavour will come from the broth. Use homemade if you have it, but store-bought broth, concentrate or bullion cubes work just as well.

    - If you are puréeing hot soup in a jug-style blender, remove the centre piece from the lid, keeping a folded towel over the opening. Process in small batches by starting on low and slowly increase the speed. This will help to lessen the steam’s pressure from building in the jug and could reduce the possibility of hot soup exploding from your blender and onto your walls, counter, cupboards and you.



    I'm a quill for hire!

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    31 October 2010

    Sponge Toffee

    If you ask me, I'm not a Hallowe'eny person. I don't carve pumpkins, I don't decorate the house with cobwebs and I generally don't give out candy.

    But the thing is if you give me the opportunity to appear in fancy dress, I plan and dream for weeks. It could be one of my foofy tafetta gowns for a swanky doo or it could be an opportunity to don my red sequinned devil horns, striped leggings or even kitten ears, the chance to wear something a bit out of the ordinary just gets me giddy.

    This Hallowe'en saw me in shades of black and gold, with glittery deelybopper antennae and glittery wings.

    Yup. I was a bumble bee. Complete with tiara...which made me a Queen B.

    I've always wanted wings...and glittery wings just made it better.

    To keep with my sweet dress-up theme I decided to make some honeycomb candy to take into the office. I'm not much of a candy maker--far too finicky for me--but Nigella's hokey pokey recipe seemed so easy not even I could mess it up--simple caramelise sugars, whisk in bicarb and pour onto a greased pan and let cool.

    But mess it up I did...the first time. In hopes of a larger surface area of candy, I spread out the foamy goo. The foamy goo deflated to a sheet of sticky sweetness...which later turned into crunchy sweetness.

    My second attempt was far more successful. This time I substituted honey for half of the needed golden syrup and increased the amount of baking soda and poured it out and let it sit on its own. Honey definitely improved the flavour, making the candy taste a bit earthier and smokier than purely sweet.

    Hokey Pokey
    Adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe in Nigella Express

    yield approx. 125g

    100g (0.5c) sugar
    2Tbsp golden syrup
    2Tbps runny honey
    1dspn (2tsp) bicarbonate of soda

    Grease a tin foil-lined cookie sheet

    Mix the sugar, syrup and honey together as best as you can. Put on the hob, over a medium flame and let it sit there--untouched, unswirled and unstirred--until the sugars are melted and are a medium-light amber colour. This happens rather quickly (2-4 minutes, depending upon the strength of your flame), so don't take your eyes off the pot.

    Immediately take off the heat and quickly whisk in the bicarb. It will foam and become moussey. Pour onto the prepared pan. Do not spread it out as the bubbles will burst and you'll lose the lovely honeycomb effect. Let cool thoroughly before breaking into pieces.

    Store in an air-tight container.

    cheers!jasmineWhat I'm reading: I'm a quill for hire!

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    24 October 2010

    Baba Ganouj

    I treat election nights as many others do the Oscars, Grammys, or World Cup or Stanley Cup Finals. I barricade myself in the TV temple, a friend or two at my side watching names and numbers scroll across the screen as talking heads and experts try to explain how things will be different in the morning.

    I yell at the television when the other side looks as if they'll win. I try and physically push the pixels so the person I voted for gets in. I hold my breath. I hide behind the cushions. I stay up as long as I can to watch final numbers.

    Tomorrow is municipal election day in Ontario. Hopeful mayors, councillors, school trustees are all on the ballots, as are various questions about this that and the other. I've read the literature and the newspaper articles. I've made various decisions and will exercise my right.

    Our local races aren't overly contentious. Okay...that's my opinion. Others won't agree and are doing their best to draw attention to heinous wrongs and/or if the rest of us don't acquiesce to their obvious superiority our area will go to Hell in a handbasket.

    So I'll be home Monday night, and will flick on the returns while tucking into nibblies. This year I'll have a bowl of baba ganouj (or baba ganoush, if you will): creamy, garlicky goodness, oozing over mini pitas and raw veggies.

    Good baba ganoujs I've had have all been made with fire-roasted aubergines--the smokiness permeates the flesh and imbues the dip with an extra savouryness that other versions just...lack. I don't have a gas hob, a barbecue, or a blowtorch, so I oven roast the eggplant until the skins char.

    Baba ganouj is easy to put together and can be made a couple of hours in advance and left to sit in the fridge so the flavours marry. I don't use as much tahini as some recipes do--just enough to impart its sesame flavour, but I lighten the texture with sour cream. You can use less garlic if you wish, but I tend to add more.

    Baba Ganouj
    Yield: approx: 1 cup

    One large purple aubergine
    2 garlic cloves, minced
    1 Tbsp Tahini
    2 Tbsp Sour Cream
    juice from half a lemon
    Extra virgin Olive oil
    Toasted sesame seeds (for garnish, optional)

    Preheat oven to 170C/350F. Line a baking tray with foil, smear with oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

    Slice the aubergine into 5cm/2" thick discs and arrange on the prepared tray. Rub oil over top of each disk and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

    Bake for 45 minutes or until the flesh yields to a knife point and the skin has blackened. Remove from oven and let cool.

    Scrape the innards into a bowl and stir in garlic, tahini and lemon juice. Balance flavours to taste. Cover and let sit in fridge until ready to serve.

    Drizzle olive oil over and sprinkle sesame seeds on top before serving with pita breads/chips, flat breads and/or crudité.


    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    17 October 2010

    Hobble. Cough. Sniffle

    If you've followed my Twitter feed for the past couple of weeks, you know that I've spent more time wrapped in cuddly blankets and an ankle propped on a pillow than causing the usual chaos and mayhem (not to mention hunger pangs for those all around me).

    Yup. I've turned my ankle--not as badly as a few years ago, but bad enough that carrying out my usual kitchen business just isn't happening. For a brief second I thought about bringing back Cooking By Proxy, but the exbf (who was part of it last time) made it more than clear that he would not go through that again. Apparently in my hobbled state I am just as scary weilding Pokey the Walking Stick as I am weilding my favourite kitchen knife.

    So I ate frozen leftovers and splashed out on enough Chinese food to feed the Red Army.

    Things were going well enough until they weren't: scratchy throat, tightwire walking a fever, drippy nose, and a cough reminiscent the soundscape of San Francisco's Pier 39. Yup. I've caught the flu...or something.

    My Dear Little Cardammumy's nurse's training has kicked in, plus her "my only baby is sick and needs to be better" instincts. Yes...a combination of scary and comforting.

    So again, I'm not in the kitchen, save for boiling a kettle or preparing a few very easy things like tinned soup and a sandwich or two. Which means I have nothing foodish to really share with you other than something that's become a recent go-to meal, completed with a cup of tea:

    A buttered, lightly toasted bagel with ribbons of paper-thin proscuitto tumbled atop each slice.

    Easy delicious.


    I'm a quill for hire!

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    11 October 2010

    Happy Thanksgiving: Starved for Attention

    A very happy Thankgiving to all my fellow Canadians. I hope you'll share a meal with whomever means the most to you and share some joy.

    A couple of weeks ago Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders (
    Canada/USA)asked me to let you know about their Starved For Attention campaign. For purposes of disclosure, I've previously donated to them and, as such, I support the work they do.

    Given Thanksgiving symbolised with a table heavily laidened with a cornucopia of delicious and nutritious meals, I thought it fitting to let you know of the campaign.

    Starved for Attention is a campaign focussed on childhood malnutrition. According to their site, almost 200 million of children younger than five years are malnurished (the majority of whom are in sub-Saharan Africa and in south Asia). The effects of this impairs immunity, and as a result is directly linked to childhood mortality. Several countries, such as Thailand, the UK and the US have taken steps to address this, but there are many more who haven't.

    Given this planet has so much food, it's more than disheartening to know that so many are ill and dying as a result of not getting the right foods to eat.

    Starved For Attention's campaign site has an online petition you can sign, if you wish--if you don't sign it you can still access the their information. If you can, please visit them and learn more about this issue.

    If you happen to be in Ottawa from 13-31 October, St. Paul University is hosting a free multi-media exhibit that exposes the crisis of childhood malnutrition. It features photography and video, featuring the work of award-winning photojournalists from the VII Photo Agency. These people traveled to malnutrition “hotspots” around the world to shed light on both the causes of the crisis and approaches to combating this condition.

    A public talk by Marilyn McHarg (MSF Canada General Director) and Susie Tector (MSF doctor) will be held at the university's ampitheatre on October 13th, from 6.30-7.30pm. To register your attendance, please
    register here.

    Starved for Attention Exhibition:

    October 13-31, 2010
    Saint Paul University
    The Atrium, Guigues Hall,
    223 Main Street, Ottawa

    Panel Discussion
    October 13,
    6:30 - 7:30 PM
    in the amphitheatre

    Other events, like one in Milan, Italy are also planned. Please
    visit this link for information about what's happening elsewhere.

    Thanks so much,


    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    09 October 2010

    Dirt and Worms Cupcakes

    This weekend was one of foodbloggerdom's biggest annual hootenanies (yup, you guessed it, BlogHer Food '10). Many are in San Francisco at panels and outings.

    Those of us not in SF are left to press our cybernoses against the windowpanes of online culinary kewlery. Many delegates tweet what they're up to. It goes something like this:

    "Oh SQUEE! I'm having so much FUN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"


    "That was such a great session about...!"


    "Who else is going to...??"


    "Can you believe .... did ....?!"


    "I finally got to meet ...! I'm so thrilled!!!"

    Alas, not everyone can attend: money, cat flossing, the fact that this is Canada's Thanksgiving weekend and many of us north of the 49th parallel have familial obligations (read whatever tone and inflection you wish into that last phrase).

    Yeah...we're sad and rather pathetic as a result.

    So sad and pathetic we started a support group.

    BlogHer Food '10 Pity Party (#BHF10PP, for those of you into hashtags) started off as a joke by the fine people behind The Peche, but soon took on a life of its own: movie trailers, themed menues, a drinks competition...seminars about how to make a habanero martini, doing fancy things with chocolate and strategies for dealing with dirty dishes were streamed as well. But really, what many of us did was tweet about how sad and pathetic we are and what we're doing to deal with it. Alcohol figures prominently (and yes, I did get some poutine).

    Misery loves company, as the saying goes.

    Me. I'm here.
    In my basement.
    Tending to a sprained ankle.
    The liquor cabinet is upstairs.
    Nobody loves me.
    Everybody hates me.
    I think I'll eat some worms.

    Hence the most obvious of treats, grownupified by the addition of whisky. It's a non recipe-recipe. You don't have to use the attached cupcake recipe--any chocolate cupcake will do. Heck. If melancholia has taken hold of you to such an extent that spending 35 minutes to make and bake cupcakes sends you into a downward spiral of sad kitten eyes and reciting bad poetry, then go ahead an buy a packet of uniced cupcakes and turn them into dirt and worms.

    My cat's breath smells like cat food..

    Dirt and Worms Cupcakes
    One dozen chocolate cupcakes (recipe follows)

    Chocolate cookie crumbs
    Gummi Worms

    Cut the domes off the cupcakes. Take four domes and crumble them into dirt clods. Mix in about an equal amount of cookie crumbs. Set aside

    Sprinkle as much whisky onto the cupcake stumps. Spread caramel on top. Tumble the cake-cookie crumb on top and nestle a worm into the dirt.

    Chocolate Cupcakes
    adapted from Edna Staebler's Devil's Food Layer Cake in Food That Really Schmecks
    Yield: 12 cupcakes

    125ml (0.5c) milk
    0.5tsp vinegar
    0.5tsp bicarbonate of soda
    165g (1.25c) cake flour
    0.5tsp baking powder
    0.25tsp ground cinnamon
    55g (0.25c) butter
    100g (0.5c) white sugar
    100g (0.5g) brown sugar
    1 egg, lightly beaten
    30g (1oz) bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
    1Tbsp whisky

    Preheat oven to 180C/350F. Line a 12-bowl muffin tin with papers.

    Mix the milk and vinegar together and let sit for about 10 minutes. Stir in the bicarb and let sit.

    Sift together flour, baking powder and cinnamon. Set aside.

    Cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy. Stir in egg and melted chocolate. Mix in the flour and soured milk in the usual alternating way (dry-wet-dry-wet-dry). Stir in the whiskey.

    Divide batter into prepared bowls and bake for 20-25 minutes. The tops will be springy and an inserted skewer will come out clean.

    Let cool to room temperature before adding the dirt and worms.

    Eat the remaining cupcake tops.


    I'm a quill for hire!

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    03 October 2010

    The contraption: slow cooked vanilla poached peaches

    After a summer off from my slow cooker to contemplate the contraption I'm back, determined to see this blogging project through to the end.

    Every attempted recipe has been meat-focussed...and maybe that's the problem. Apart from pulled pork and ribs, nothing it's done has made me cotton to it, and only leaves me to wonder why so many people are enamoured with the beast and its kin.

    With this in mind, this month I decided to eschew the contraption's carnal side to experiment with the sweeter side of its personality.

    Poached fruits was the obvious first step for me--whole specimens left to blurble in a sweet syrup shouldn't push the machine far beyond its capabilities.

    By the time I mustered up the energy to pull it off the shelf and prepare this month's offering, local peaches had their day and all I could easily find were sad, softball-like imports. The only positive comment I can say about these truck-driven specimens is they retained some semblance of fragrance.

    It doesn't take a genius to poach fruit. Whip up a poaching liquid, spiced as you wish, and then let the prepared fruit simmer away until it's reached to the point of doneness. Again, I'm not convinced that using a slow cooker helped in any way, and in fact just gave me an extra couple of pieces to wash (the cooker insert and lid).
    Normally when I poach fruit, I use water or juice but this time I decided to use a vidal from Norfolk County's Florence Estate Winery. By the time the fruit was done, the seed-speckled liquid was heady with peach and vanilla and retained a bit of the wine's crispness.
    Poached fruit is wonderful on a cool night, especially now as the seasons turn. Will I do this again? Definitely, but I'll save myself dish rack space and leave the slow cooker out of it.

    Vanilla Poached Peaches
    Serves eight

    8 ripe but firm peaches, halved and stoned (skinning, optional)
    250ml (1c) sweet white wine
    250ml (1c) water
    80ml (0.33c) honey
    1 vanilla pod, slit in half lengthways OR 1dspn (2tsp) vanilla paste

    pouring custard, whipped cream, heavy cream or ice cream, for serving (optional)

    Preheat slow cooker, if its manufacturer's instructions dictate.

    Heat wine, water, honey and vanilla until bubbling.

    Arrange peaches in slow cooker, pour vanilla syrup overtop. Cover and cook on low for 90 minutes. The fruit should be firm, but yield to an inserted blade.

    Remove peaches from cooker and pour syrup into pan. Over a medium-high flame, reduce liquid by about half.

    Serve warm: two halves per person with syrup dizzled over top. serve with custard, cream or ice cream, if you wish.


    I'm a quill for hire!

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    29 September 2010

    Happy birthday to me: Nigella's margarita ice cream for five food bloggers

    Being a food blogger means you are part of a large food-loving community, brought together by pixels, LANs and wireless connections. Over the past five years I've corresponded with hundreds of food bloggers. I've been lucky enough to meet a couple dozen of them, here at home or in transit. Some have become dear friends and we try and get together a few times each year, but there are others whom I feel just as close to, but have never met.

    In as much as I'd love to have Chinese New Year dinner, wings and a pint, or spend an afternoon making strawberry jam with pretty much every food blogger, there are a few I'd simply, unabashedly squeal with joy if the stars aligned and we wound up at the same table, stove or check-out queue.

    That got me thinking...
    Many of us have played the dinner party game where we'd list people we'd most have to have dinner with--my own list includes Artemisia Gentileschi, Stephen Fry, Oscar Wilde, TE Lawrence, Jane Austen, Nigella Lawson (whom I've met), Thomas Jefferson and Abigail Adams--I wondered, since both my blog and I added a "one" to our ages, which five food bloggers I'd never met would I love to have at my birthday supper...

    Why these five? There's a connection there that's sometimes hard to explain...but suffice it to say whenever they pop up, they always make me smile.

    Why five? A perfectly practical reason: my dining table seats six...

    Annemarie of Ambrosia and Nectar: I think Annemarie and I met through The Daring Bakers a couple of years ago. When my turn came up to host a challenge, I knew I wanted her as my co-hostess. Her sense of humour and clear thinking made her a fabulous colleague and dear, dear friend.

    Jeff of A Dork and His Pork: Jeff popped up in my Twitter feed last year. When I visited his blog, I knew he was someone with whom I could relate: he drew an anaolgy to Thelonious Monk when writing about banana bread. 'Nuff said.

    Mary of The Sour Dough: There are certain parallels our lives have and because of that, there's little explanation needed. We can email one another at any point and there will be assistance, encouragement and support. That, and she'll answer my inredibly silly questions about bread baking.

    Paz of The Cooking Adventures of Chef Paz: Oh goodness...Paz is simply one of the sweetest people I've met online. Visiting her site is like going to the home of a long, dear friend. I love the breadth of her recipes and, of course, her slice-of-life photos of New York City.

    Shaun of Winter Skies, Kitchen Aglow: I can't remember when we found one another, but we recognise in one another a spark and a connection--we're kindred spirits in words, influences and outlook.

    And since it's my birthday, what else would I serve alongside cake, but ice cream? I've spied Nigella Lawson's Margarita ice cream recipe in Forever Summer for ages, but have never made it until this summer. It's rich and creamy, with the lime-laced tell-tale tequila buzz of its eponymous cocktail--appropriated served in a sugar-salt rimmed glass. In La Lawson's own words: "This is surely what angels would eat at their hen night."

    Margarita Ice Cream
    adapted from Nigella Lawson's recipe in Forever Summer

    375ml (1.5c) heavy cream
    6 large egg yolks
    1x300ml tin (1.25c) sweetened condensed milk
    90ml (6Tbsp) tequila
    30ml (2Tbsp) Triple Sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier
    Juice of 6 limes and the zest of 1

    First, make a custard by scalding the cream, then dribble it into the egg yolks, and then pouring the mixture back into the pot. Cook it, stirring all the while, until it coats the back of a spoon. Take it off the heat and let cool for at least 20 minutes before stirring in the condensed milk, tequila and Triple Sec, lime juice and zest and then leave to cool completely before pouring into your ice cream maker. Churn according to manufacturer's instructions.


    I'm a quill for hire!

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button

    20 September 2010

    Peach-almond upside down cake

    I’m not the only one who hates being photographed.

    I can’t really point to a reason for this neurosis: There’s the once-natural smile, held too long; being at the mercy of a once-enthusiastic and creative soul reduced to crutches of standard poses against unimaginative backdrops; the once-hidden moment that is now forever captured. At some level, it’s the blunted truth captured by a mechanical eye. I am the subject which becomes the object.

    I also have a pathological distrust of photographers and a deep-seated dread of cameras: photographers are evil and cameras are the work of a malevolent being.

    In other words, I simply don’t photograph well.

    In many pictures I look like an Ewok with thyroid issues as drawn by James Gillray. Other times I look like a maniacal motivational speaker who specialises in presenting to sadistic dentists and their overly Botoxed, gold-lamé sandal wearing assistants who own their own tanning beds.

    That ain't pretty. Not that I do pretty.

    My recent need for a head shot was met my usual apoplexy: knotted stomach, quickened breath and more than a touch of “just let me do a line drawing likeness of myself and be done with it.”

    After meeting
    Jay, I could see why my best friend recommended him. He captured gorgeous, light-filled natural images that radiated her personality. His online portfolio drew me in with snaps of spirited moments, thoughtful compositions and unrehearsed expression. Our pre-shoot meeting confirmed my initial impressions of him formed from those images: approachable, perceptive and receptive.

    Truth be told I think he got more than he reckoned…Others would have stared blankly or nonchalantly (or not so nonchalantly) looked for the exit as my tongue unfurled non-profane bluntness and free-wheeling adjectives and adverbs. Him? He rolled his eyes several times with an impish grin and, unlike others, he very deftly handled my pronouncements, concerns and meandering tales while reassuring me and talking through the nuts and bolts of the photo shoot—duration, colours and apart from lippy, no make up.

    The session itself was very unlike other photo sessions I’ve done. Those were mechanical and processed. This was like spending the afternoon with an old friend…except, of course, for the honkin' huge camera, massive light reflector and the occasional crowd that gathered to see what was so special about this short chick in pink that she had an incredibly tall stalker photographing her every step.

    The shutter clicked more than 200 times, but it didn’t feel like it.

    There were more than two dozen useable images. Heck, there were more than dozen good images. From those, these two were chosen, each imparting a different facet of my personality:

    According to my friend
    Gin, I can no longer claim to not photograph well.

    Begrudgingly...I think she’s right.

    Quite honestly, I think Jay is the reason there were so many good images. It goes beyond the facts that he has a good eye, understands light, composition and movement. It’s because he made me feel comfortable and forget that I was being stalked by an incredibly tall man with a soul-stealing camera.

    Good gravy. That’s a revelation on par with Herschel’s discovery of Uranus.

    Seriously. It’s THAT big.

    And it must be noted.

    What appeared from my kitchen was this peach upside down cake, inspired by Ontario’s August peaches. I gave it to him when I selected the images. It wasn't a total surprise as I emailed quesitons about allergies and preferences. But he and his family appreciated this small bit of thanks, asking for the recipe. And that, to me, is all I could ask for.

    This cake is the progeny of several different recipes (but my main inspirations were recipes by Rose Murray, as blogged by Charmian, and Canadian Living). It’s deceptive in that it looks as if it should be treacly, but it’s not. The caramel is light and tamed by a pinch of salt; it melts with the peach juices into the cakes soft crumb. If you’re in midwinter and can’t get in-season fruit, drained, canned peaches work just as well and is a delicious way of bringing back summer in the midst of dark and cold days.

    Peach-Almond Upside Down Cake
    Yield: one 20cm/8" cake

    For the topping:
    100g (0.5c) brown sugar
    45g (3Tbsp) butter, melted
    pinch salt
    4-5 peaches, peeled, sliced into 0.5cm wedges

    For the cake
    90g (6.5Tbsp) butter
    2dspn (1.5Tbsp) flavourless oil
    120g (0.66c) sugar
    1 egg
    1tsp almond extract
    1tsp, rounded baking powder
    0.75tsp bicarbonate of soda
    130g (1c) cake flour
    0.25tsp salt
    125ml (0.5c) milk/cream
    125ml (0.5c) vanilla yoghurt
    Garnish (optional)
    A handful of toasted almond flakes

    Preheat oven to 170C/350F. Butter a 20cm/8" springform pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment. Wrap the tin's outside in tin foil to keep the caramel from leaking (and burning) in your oven. Line a baking sheet with tin foil as well. Set aside.
    Sift together the baking powder, bicarb, flour and a quarter teaspoon of salt and set aside. Mix together the milk and yoghurt; set that aside too.

    Melt brown sugar, 45g butter and a pinch of salt until bubbly. Pour into the prepared pan. Place the peach slices in the caramel in whatever configuration you wish. Set the tin on the lined baking sheet and set aside.

    Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the oil. Add the eggs one at time, beating well between each addition. Pour in the almond extract and mix again. Scrape down the bowl's sides with a rubber spatula.

    Add the flour mixture and yoghurty milk mixture in the usual alternating way: flour-milk-flour-milk-flour--scraping down the sides between additions. Give the mixture a gentle turn with the spatula before turning the batter into the prepared, carameled and peached pan. Evenly spread the batter before popping it into the preheated oven. Depending upon your kitchen's temperament, bake for 45-60 minutes. When done, an inserted skewer will come out clean-ish, with a few crumbs adhering to the stick, the cake will spring back to the touch and pull away from tin's sides. It will be a golden tawny colour.

    Let cool for at least an hour before unclipping the sides. Invert onto a cake plate, so the peachy bottom is on top. It's easiest to remove the parchment round while the cake is still warm, to preserve the loveliness of the peach pattern.

    Strew with toasted almonds and serve the cake warm with or without ice cream or whipped cream.


    I'm a quill for hire!

    AddThis Social Bookmark Button